Saturday, June 9, 2012

Young stars rise to the occasion

Associated Press photo
Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 over six dominant innings in his Fenway Park debut.
BOSTON -- They've been playing baseball in this cozy little yard for 100 years, and the names who have excelled on this field read like a guest list to some exclusive dinner party in Cooperstown.

Ruth. Cobb. Williams. Mantle. Musial. Yastrzemski. Griffey. Pujols. They all stood in the batter's box at Fenway Park.

Johnson. Grove. Feller. Gibson. Ryan. Clemens. Martinez. They all toed the rubber in the center of this baseball cathedral.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper don't belong among the company of those names, not yet. But the two young stars of the Nationals know the history of this game and know the history of this place. And when they stepped between the white lines at Fenway Park Friday night for the first time during a 7-4 victory over the Red Sox, they knew it was time to state their presence with authority.

"It was unbelievable," said Harper, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBI. "I love those kind of atmospheres ... and I always pretty much rise to the occasion. I love playing in these situations."

"You know that you're playing in one of the most historic ballparks in the game," said Strasburg, who struck out 13 while throwing a career-high 119 pitches. "And to have the sellout crowd like that, it's awesome. It's awesome to go out there and be successful."

Awesome for Harper and Strasburg. And awesome for the Nationals, who with this convincing victory made another emphatic statement about their ever-growing stature as a force that will have to be reckoned with for years to come.

In a ballpark that has seen its share of phenoms shine, and against a franchise that has boasted some of the most well-known players in the sport, a star-studded Washington baseball team marched right in and stole the spotlight before a sellout crowd of 37,309.

Yes, these are strange times indeed. And thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying for the first-place Nationals, who got to see their two young studs seize the moment together in a manner no one had seen them do it before.

"Oh! Oh!" manager Davey Johnson exclaimed while talking about Strasburg and Harper's performance. "It was fun watching."

The night actually didn't begin so great for either player. Strasburg labored through a 27-pitch second inning, giving up two runs and putting his team in an early hole. Harper, meanwhile, looked foolish whiffing at a Felix Doubront curveball in the top of the first, striking out with a mighty cut.

"I think I just got a little overwhelmed with the atmosphere and whatnot," Harper said. "It was just a great atmosphere. I think I was just a little too anxious and tried to do a little too much."

But once they got settled in and made some adjustments, each young star flipped the switch and turned dominant.

Two innings after that unsightly strikeout, Harper dug in again against Doubront and laced a double. One inning later, he crushed a 92-mph fastball into the bleachers just to the right of the 420-foot sign in deep right-center.

As Harper raced around the bases upon clubbing his sixth homer in 36 big-league games, a funny thing happened. Whatever responses there were from the crowd were positive. Whether they were Nationals fans who made the weekend trip, Bostonians who simply appreciated the extraordinary feats of a 19-year-old or even members of the Red Sox who complimented him in mid-game, everyone was showering Harper with praise.

"Looking over at that dugout at [David] Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia ... it's pretty unbelievable," Harper said. "Going around the bases and Pedroia's saying: 'Great job,' ... and I'm 19 years old. So I still look at those guys as the guys I grew up watching. It was pretty unbelievable to see that."

The crowd and opponents were less complimentary Strasburg and more in awe of the 23-year-old, who kept getting better and better as the night wore on.

After serving up a two-run double to Mike Aviles in the second, Strasburg retired 11 straight. Of the final 12 outs he record, 10 came on strikeouts.

"He's like a [Justin] Verlander," Red Sox right fielder Ryan Sweeney said, referring to the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. "But he starts out throwing 97-98 the whole game."

And just when it appeared Strasburg might finally crack during a laborious bottom of the sixth, he dug deep and delivered the big pitches he desperately needed.

With the bases loaded and one out in the inning, Strasburg was already sitting on 106 pitches. He'd never thrown more than 108 in his professional career, but his manager didn't think twice about leaving him out there.

"There's no way I'm hooking him with the bases loaded," Johnson said. "I don't care what his pitch count was. I was going to have to fight ownership if I let him go too long, but I didn't want to have to fight Stras if I went and took him out."

How did Strasburg respond? He struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a curveball, his 113th pitch of the game. Then he struck out Kevin Youkilis on a 3-2 fastball at the knees that left Youkilis arguing with plate umpire Doug Eddings (and getting ejected for it) and left Strasburg (now 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA) dancing his way back to the dugout at the end of a brilliant, 119-pitch night.

"I mean, I knew it was up there," Strasburg said of his pitch count. "But I had so much adrenaline being in Fenway for the first time, it didn't really matter."

"That's the difference between great pitchers and ones that aren't," Saltalamacchia said. "He just did a great job of getting himself out of jams."

Strasburg's 13th strikeout -- on the two-year anniversary of his 14-strikeout, major-league debut -- represented the emotional climax of the game. The denouement was mostly academic, with Harper coming up a triple shy of the cycle and Tyler Clippard coming into a jam in the bottom of the ninth to record his sixth save.

By that point, many among the sellout crowd had departed. A group of Nationals fans seated near the first-base dugout proudly waved a large banner with the curly W logo; there was nothing the locals could do to respond.

And there was nothing those inside the Red Sox clubhouse could do at the end of the night but shake their heads in amazement at what they had just witnessed firsthand from a couple of of the game's newest stars.

"Two very impressive players," Gonzalez said.

Not to mention a very impressive team, a suddenly relevant franchise from a city not accustomed to baseball excellence, that with each passing day converts a few more believers.

62 comments:

waddu eye no said...

just woke up . great way to start a day. gotta put on my nat hat and go run.

gyfng.

Joe Seamhead said...

I am just aglow over all things Nationals right now. I don't particularly like the inter league schedule but this year's is pretty cool for exposing the Washinton Nationals to the national sports media, and to baseball fans everywhere. Not just Strasburg and Harper, but the whole team has a chance to shine in the bright city lights through this part of the schedule. I'll guarantee you that many a Bosox fan left the stadium duly impressed last night, not to mention millions more that watched on the tube.
Mark, one of your best commentaries yet. Nicely written!
GYFNG!

Drew said...

In case anyone's wondering, the rookie home run records are out of reach:

NL -- 38 -- Boston Braves' Wally Berger in 1930 and Cincy's Frank Robinson in 1956.

AL -- 49 -- McGwire with Oakland in 1987.

Drew said...

The Kid (born 10-16-92 ) has a shot at the record for most home runs by a teenager -- 24 by Tony Conigliaro.

One to watch in the first phase of his career: Youngest to 100 homers was Mel Ott at 22 years and 132 days.

sjm308 said...

Just perused some of the other sites and watched Davey's press conference and Kristina's interview with Strasburg after the game.

Not only are we playing great baseball, how great is it to NOT have to listen to Debbie Taylor's inane questions and actually get questions that lead to intelligent statements, plus Davey is so refreshing compared to sourpuss Riggs (who I actually really liked). Kinda nice to hear that SS went to Ankiel for advice about the curveball. This is another example of how this team actually really works together to help each other. Great mix of veterans and youngsters. I was excited yesterday, nothing has changed.

Go Nats!!!

MicheleS said...

I love waking up after a win. It could be raining buckets and I would still think the sun is shining. My rose colored glasses are firmly in place and I am about to have my morning koolaid. I plan on enjoying this win for awhile (at least until 4pm)!!!!

GYFNG!!!!

djinFl. said...

You have to read the first paragraph at least


http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/baseball/red_sox/view/20220609at_19_harperimpresses_all/srvc=sports&position=also

djinFl. said...

Actually there are 3 very good articles in the Boston Herald today. The boys really impressed their beat writers last night.

The Fox said...

Mark nice quote from Saltalamacchia. When the guy you strike out especially the catcher says your pitcher is a great pitcher its hard to get a better complement.

Its been mentioned before how other teams players stop and actually watch Strasburg pitch but now their stopping to watch Harper's at bats. There is no higher complement than that.

You may like or dislike Boston's fans but they are some of the most knowledgeable and boisterous and our guys pretty much left them speechless. Strasburg had the bases loaded and the fans were mostly watching him not cheering their team.

When I'm sitting next to baseball fans of the other team either at home or on the road I usually get into a friendly baseball discussion and they all ask about Strasburg and Harper and my response has become, they are as good as the hype.

Its sure a lot more fun being a Nationals fan and I never miss a Strasburg start and now I can almost never miss a Harper at bat.

The Fox said...

Sorry for grammar mistakes, haven't had my coffee yet.

Cool story djinFl thanks.

JayB said...

And me too....Harper is just amazing to watch. My team growing up was the Red Machine. Harper plays like Rose and is smart like Morgan and clutch like Perez....that is 3 Hall of Fame players (Rose I know).....He is just much better than I ever though he would be at 19 or even 22 really.

I did not see him play this hard in the Minor Leagues and College. Has he stepped that part of his game up? I knew he was a baseball rat and I knew understood the game and appreciated true baseball history but......now I know he is heading towards one of the all time great players. He is better than anyone on the field right now.

The Fox said...

JayB,

Now if we could just get Harper to field like Concepcion. A friend of mine said he did not get the triple so he did "fail" at hitting for the cycle. I responded that there still is room for improvement ;-).

Gonat said...

I have seen a JB posting and JayB. Are you all the same person?

Joe Seamhead said...

Harper's jump on the ball in the outfield has already improved dramatically since he got up here. Davey has said all along that Bryce would get better quicker by being up here with him. He was right. Again.
I can't help but to speculate as to how things would be different for Harper, and for us as fans, if our previous manager had stayed.

Joe Seamhead said...

Gonat said...
I have seen a JB posting and JayB. Are you all the same person?
June 09, 2012 8:17 AM
------------------
Maybe JB and JayB are first cousins to Good Henry and Bad Henry?

Gonat said...

Joe, LOL. What about Good Lidge and On The Lidge?

baseballswami said...

Bryce and Strassie are both so intense and competitive - sometimes I wonder if they both want to win so badly, or if they just have so much pride in their games that they can't stand the humiliation of failing on a big stage. Just won't even consider the possibility. Both just seem to have another gear they can kick into.

jeffwx said...

how often in the history of the game are what could be one of the generation's greatest pitcher and hitter on the same team.

Gonat said...

That Nady catch really changed the complexion of the game as it was 3-2 at that time.

Nady hasn't done much however he has made the highlight reel 3 times now for the Nats in a significant way.

Gonat said...

jeffwx said...
how often in the history of the game are what could be one of the generation's greatest pitcher and hitter on the same team.

June 09, 2012 8:29 AM
__________________________

Hows about when the generations best pitcher was also the best hitter. Yes, his name was Babe Ruth.

Gonat said...

In Spring Training, when Bryce went thru that weekend vs. the Yankees and looked very overmatched that I was convinced he wasn't ready.

Now this KID is the best position player on the ENTIRE Nats team. Yes, the entire team.

I can't believe I am saying this. Unfortunately its a product of how poorly Zim is playing and the fact Morse was injured and LaRoche's numbers fell off. Desmond is the 2nd best position player on this team.

The Fox said...

Joe Seamhead,

Harper's jump on the ball is fine and his arm is a cannon, knowing where to throw the ball still needs a little improvement. I'm not complaining its all OJT and I'm sure he will be fine once he plays there awhile.

I was reading the 3 articles that djinFl mentioned and buried in one of them is this

Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will start today, one day shy of the one-year anniversary of having Tommy John elbow surgery. To open a roster spot, the Red Sox are expected to designate outfielder Marlon Byrd for assignment.

Now I don't hate our bench as much as most people here do, however if the Nats can bring Marlon home so to speak for nothing I might be intrigued.

Doc said...

I'm sure that Bryce had good support at 'Cuse, but the difference in his performance between AAA and The Bigs is the opportunity to learn not only from Davey, but the daily advice he gets from some solid pros.

They should appreciate Harps in Fenway--he's got Teddy Ballgame's brain when he's in the batter's box.

NatsJack in Florida said...

How refreshing to read a positive post, JayB. Good job.

jeffwx said...

Hows about when the generations best pitcher was also the best hitter. Yes, his name was Babe Ruth.
==================================================

yeah, but they never played together ;)

Gonat said...

NatsJack in Florida said...
How refreshing to read a positive post, JayB. Good job.

June 09, 2012 8:56 AM
_____________________________

Yes, yes it is. On the other hand, the bench is contributing like Nady last night and Bernadina for the last month and the fact that Ankiel is FINALLY a bench player where he should have been.

Our favorite bench player Corey Brown had the GW RBI last night with a Grand Slam.

Gonat said...

Also of mention again and again is how much better Danny Espinosa is from the right side.

NCNatsie said...

My first MLB game was Aug 9, 1953, Fenway Park. Ted Williams hit his first home run after coming back from the Korean War. Over my head, a few rows to the bullpen side of the right field stands. For the next 50 years or so I was a diehard Sox fan.

I rooted for the Nats from Day 1, and was at Game 1 in Nats stadium, but last night marked a true transition when I realized I was unequivocally and seriously rooting for them against my old team. The transition is complete.

But how cool was it for Pedroia to say, "Nice job" to Harper when he hit his home run.

ehay2k said...

I think all there is left to do is to teach Bryce to pitch. Then we could have our own version of Ruth! :-)

Seriously, he is fun to watch, and if you consider how raw he really is at the moment, there is a lot of upside. Think about that for a minute.

Ahh, a good morning indeed!

MicheleS said...

Gonat.. I hate to say this as well - because I love RZ. I watched Bryce's first 5 games at home live and in person (Baseball - it's my addiction). And I knew by the second game that Byrce was the best player on the team. It was scary how he approached everything. The adjustments he as made after every at bat (sometimes within an at bat). I think the only thing that concerns me is when he throws to the plate. He just needs to pay more attention to where the base runners are and throw the appropriate base. I know.. It's nit picking, but geesh is that kid good!!! Plus he is Bieber - we better be prepared for the teenage girls (I know I have a niece that is drooling) that will invade the park.

ehay2k said...

Jeffwx, there was no abomination known as the DH back then, so Ruth and Ruth took the filed together with the same frequency as Harper and Strasburg. Ruth pitched a lot of complete games, however, so he was on the field with himself a lot longer. :-)

Section 222 said...

Mark, this piece just about brought tears to my eyes. And the Koolaid in here is addicting. so much fun to read the comments this morning.

How great is it to have two young stars with not only amazing raw talent but the ability to rise to the occasion at the big moment in a big game. I have more confidence when Harper strides to the plate with men on base than anyone on the team. And I just knew that Stras would get through that jam in the 6th.

Kudos to the Red Sox players for not being all sour grapes after a tough loss and tell it like it is about our two future Hall of Famers. That's class.

NatsJack in Florida said...

On Bryce's influence on the Nats veterans, I believe the Nady infield hit last night was a direct result of watching how hard Bryce runs everything out.

Drew said...

Ruth was a truly great pitcher -- .671 winning percentage, 17 shutouts, 2.28 career ERA.

As for dynamic duos, Henry Aaron and Warren Spahn were a nifty tandem in Milwaukee.

Willie Mays and Juan Marichal had some big years together.

But it would be hard to top the pairing of Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx for the Philadelphia A's of 1930-32. Their numbers are extraordinary.

sjm308 said...

Not only the players but the fans as well. No one was throwing Harpers HR back onto the field. They were not booing the kid in the field but in fact cheering for him.

The TV guys also mentioned how during the middle of innings there is no music played, no games on the scoreboard, no Cliff (or whatever his name is) and certainly no wave. It's just baseball at Fenway, the way god intented it to be.

Go Nats!!

sjm308 said...

Drew:
What about Chuck Stobbs and Wayne Tewilliger??

baseballswami said...

I was watching some highlights/clips from last night's mlb action and I saw something very interesting -- Jason Heyward absolutely hustling, taking the extra base, scoring - it was like a different player. Did our Bryce teach him a little bit of a baseball lesson? Defenses have to be more on their toes, pitchers are more careful with him - everyone playing around him on both teams seems to be affected by his play. I even think some of our guys are stepping up their game a little bit, not wanting to be shown up by the kid. It's a cool thing to watch. I am a little surprise by how the Boston fans have reacted to the Nats in general. Maybe they just like to watch talented baseball players.

NatsLady said...

Maybe they just like to watch talented baseball players.

I do. McCutchen killed us and I'm glad he's gone--but I sure had fun watching him.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Gonat/MicheleS, yes, it is true Harp is the best position player on the field right now but that is more a by-product of how poor his teammates are performing.

Lombo and Desi are both playing better than expectations.

m20832 said...

Really good writing Mark. The win last night showed that our Nats will be good for a long time!

GYFNG!!!!

baseballswami said...

In Mark's title -- "Young Stars..." and it would be so easy to fall into the out- of- town media Harper/Strasburg tunnel vision. What I love is that we have more than one rookie making his mark -- Lombo has been so good, but he sits out a game and Moore shows us his stuff! Espi is not a rookie, but a young player with crazy defensive stuff who has the capability to be a great hitter as he showed last night. Desi and Zim are still young stars, too. There are more than two - we seem to be loaded with them right now - that is just so very cool.Harper/Lombo/Moore -- all rookies! I saw the picture of Gammons with BHarp - is there a written piece or a video interview upcoming from that? If anyone hears anything please post because it will surely be special. Only a few more hours of euphoria left from last night's game and then we play again. I hope Gio is at his utmost Gio-ness. He has played there before but he gets excited sometimes.

Drew said...

SJM308 --

I grew up watching the expansion Nats. Twig was a fine third base coach. The Nats just didn't get enough guys to third.

NatsLady said...

Unbelievably, the oddmakers were right: the M's beat the Dodgers (1-0 in the combined no-hitter).

Nats favored today at -110 to -120.

Go NATS!!

jeffwx said...

Gonat, et al. indeed, Ruth was probably the best pitcher and hitter duo to play on the same team together. I like the Spahn/Aaron combo.
Growing up Yankee, I have to consider Ford/Mantle also. First game a bat day doubleheader in the bronx in 1971. Scary to be in the bronx with a bunch of NYers with bats.

And to think that Stras/Gio/Zimmnn will be our top three for some time to come...Dopamine is flowing this morning...don't need the prozac today.

Scott from Burke said...

natslady..oddsmakers arent trying to determine who is going to win..they're picking a number so the betting public will wager the same amount of money on both sides...since they get the vig they win every time

jeffwx said...

Anyone know when Matheus is reinstated to the pen ?

Scott from Burke said...

best hitter /pitcher combo on same team...greg maddux/chipper jones...jim palmer/frank robinson...randy johnson/ken griffey jr

jeffwx said...

Johnson/Griffey Jr hard to beat

jeffwx said...

Steve Carlton/Mike Schmidt

NatsLady said...

According to MLB.com, Mattheus is scheduled to pitch a rehab game tomorrow. Here is the injury list.

Nats injury list

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/fantasy/injuries/#team120

jeffwx said...

Thanks NL, bookmarked.
Will be interesting to see who moves when Mattheus, HROD, DeRosa, Storen return.

NatsLady said...

Also:

Reliever Ryan Mattheus threw in a simulated game on Friday and didn't have any pain in his left foot. He will participate in pitchers' fielding practice on Saturday and pitch in another simulated game the next day. He's on the disabled list with a plantar fascia strain.

mick said...

This is a blast!! Listening to Phil and my man cueball head, love them both. When Werth comes back, I would put him in front of Desmond which would force pitchers to pitch to Werth. If Jayson can hit the 280 he was hitting before he was hurt, I do not see how the Nats score less than 4 runs a game

If our arms stay healthy, wach out. I notice the damn Giants are 8 over 500 so, the wild Card race gets even more intense.

Hope Gio pitches well, are number one and two pitchers should be wins most outings

mick said...

Strass and Bryce are DC's Ford and Mantle!!!!

mick said...

I bet Boston fans are hating life right now, ha ha Hea about too beat the Celtics and Sox maybe about to lose the series to Nats.

NatsLady said...

Your daily dose of KooKaid-- our rotation's strikeout rate is historically good!

nationals-pitching-has-been-more-than-ok

http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/44889/nationals-pitching-has-been-more-than-ok

mick said...

did not know that the last time a Nats team won in Boston was May, 1971, ,an oh man does that bring back memories. that scum bucket Bob short was plotting is move to Texas, Curt Flood went AWOL for the season, Denny McClain was headed to 24 losses and was drugged out half the time or drunk,stupid trade of Mike Epstein for an aging Don Mincher, poor Dick Bosman losing 5 1-0 games, but the good news was the George Allen era was about to begin and back then I had no worries, lol

pRAA said...

The TV guys also mentioned how during the middle of innings there is no music played, no games on the scoreboard, no Cliff (or whatever his name is) and certainly no wave. It's just baseball at Fenway, the way god intented it to be.

Well, except for Sweet Caroline in the 8th inning. Thank God they don't do that at Nationals Park any more.

Scooter said...

Really liking the pitcher/hitter combos, y'all. jeffwx already got mine. Thanks.

mick said...

Sweet Caroline ba ba ba, lol

mick said...

Sweet Caroline ba ba ba, lol

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

Sonce my Mother's name was caroline that was her favorite song, but I understand the gans getting tired of it.

I hope as the years go we lock these guys up if thing progress as we thin. Would love to see both retire nationals.

Was telling my assistant principal the other day, I hope I live long enough to see how Harper and Stasburg do for their career.

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